How Liberalism Can Win

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JONATHAN CHAIT JULY 27, 2010

How Liberalism Can Win

Jonathan Bernstein notes a historical precursor to the current liberal drive to scale back the filibuster:

In 1958, Democrats won a huge landslide in the last midterm with Eisenhower as president.  Democrats had maintained majorities in Congress since 1955, but the 1958 elections gave liberal Democrats their first solid majorities in twenty years.  Then in 1960, John Kennedy was elected and liberals controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House...

...and nothing happened.  Well, not quite nothing, but most of the liberal agenda was stopped by rules that empowered conservatives in the House of Representatives. Yup, the House, not (primarily) the Senate.

And so the first Congress with JFK in the White House was relatively unproductive, and Democrats didn't do especially well in the 1962 midterms.  Meanwhile, liberals inside and outside of Congress applied major pressure for reform, and in fact during those years, liberals in the House enacted major reforms.  So Democrats started passing major legislation including the Civil Rights Act, and then when Democrats won another landslide in 1964, Congress was ready to enact the preferences of large liberal majorities, and the result was the famous 89th Congress.

As he notes, repeating this scenario would require Democrats to hold the House in 2010 and then with the White House in 2012. That seems optimistic but not impossible.

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posted in: jonathan chait, congress, house of representatives, senate, white house, john kennedy, jonathan bernstein

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